Mike Pompeo, the former CIA director and now chief diplomat of the United States, made the following remarks in a recent interview:
“I was the CIA director. We lied, we cheated, we stole. It’s — it was like — we had entire training courses. It reminds you of the glory of the American experiment.”
That perhaps won’t come as too much of a surprise to many people, but it is nonetheless welcome to have it admitted by no less a person than the former director of that organisation.
However, in the light of the stunning, albeit unwitting, revelation in The New York Times, that the then deputy director of the CIA (now director), Gina Haspel, used pictures of sick children and dead ducks allegedly from the Salisbury poisoning to persuade Donald Trump to expel 60 Russian diplomats — even though no children became ill and no ducks died — one wonders whether those entire training courses Mr Pompeo refers to include modules on “How to lie to the President,” and “The use of fowl play to manipulate the Commander-in-Chief”.
But there is, I think, even more to the duck story than meets the eye. In order to explain why this is so, it is necessary to first set out a timeline of events connected with it:
Two people were found unconscious on a bench in The Maltings in Salisbury in what was initially thought to be a Fentanyl overdose.
Theresa May spoke to Donald Trump by phone. According to Downing Street’s report of the conversation:
“The Prime Minister set out the conclusion reached by the UK government that it was highly likely that Russia was responsible for the attack against Sergei and Yulia Skripal. President Trump said the US was with the UK all the way, agreeing that the Russian government must provide unambiguous answers as to how this nerve agent came to be used.”
According to the British Government, no further phone calls took place between the two leaders after this until 28th March.
The parents of Aiden Cooper and the two other boys involved in feeding the ducks were contacted by police and checked out for possible symptoms of poisoning, but were given the all clear.
(*I have stated 18th March, but this is an approximate date based on an interview with Aiden Cooper’s father, Luke, who said that the police came knocking on the door “two weeks after” the incident, which would make it on, or close to, 18th March.)
President Trump called President Putin, to congratulate him on his election win. He did not, however, mention the Skripal case. According to the Washington Post:
“Trump also chose not to heed talking points from aides instructing him to condemn the recent poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain with a powerful nerve agent, a case that both the British and U.S. governments have blamed on Moscow… Trump’s failure to raise Moscow’s alleged poisoning of the former spy in Britain risked angering officials in London, who are trying to rally Britain’s closest allies to condemn the attack.”
Between 20th and 23rd March
The Deputy Director of the CIA, Gina Haspel, used fake images of sick children and dead ducks to persuade President Trump to take the toughest action against the Russian state, which involved the expulsion of 60 diplomats and the closing of the Russian consulate in Seattle.
Saturday 24th March
The first mention in the media (The Mirror) that Mr Skripal fed ducks near the Avon Playground, giving bread to three boys. The article also contained two very significant statements. The first was this:
“The incident involving the boys, who are believed to have been given the all-clear, was confirmed by Public Health England and described by British officials to US authorities [my emphasis].”
The second was the first mention in the media of the possibility of the door handle as the place of poisoning:
“The shocking revelation is one of a series we can make today, including how investigators are now focusing on the double agent’s front door handle as the “ground zero” where spooks planted the deadly poison.”
At his Mar-a-Lago resort, President Trump was briefed by his aides who explained that the number of diplomats the US would be expelling – 60 – was roughly the same amount as the Europeans.
The expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats by the US was publicly confirmed. On the same day, Theresa May made a statement to the House of Commons, in which she said the following:
“And as I announced today, 18 countries have announced their intention to expel more than 100 Russian intelligence officers, including 15 EU member states as well as the US, Canada and the Ukraine. And this is the largest collective expulsion of Russian intelligence officers in history.”
It should also be noted that her statement contained an outright falsehood. She stated:
“Sergei and Yulia Skripal remain critically ill in hospital. Sadly, late last week doctors indicated that their condition is unlikely to change in the near future and they may never recover fully.”
This was not true, since “late last week”, Yulia Skripal was being taken out of an induced coma by doctors, which was completed by 23rd or 24th March (see here for further details).
The door handle as the place of poisoning was said to have been confirmed. On the same day, The Sun carried an interview with Aiden Cooper and his parents about the duck feed incident. In the piece, Aiden’s father, Luke, confirmed that it was “two weeks” after the poisoning that police had contacted them.
What can we make of this?
The first thing to say is that a key piece of evidence in this whole saga is to be found in the event that took place 5th March. Approximately 24 hours after the incident on the bench, military personnel in Hazmats were filmed searching very intensely in a particular bin. But there are three very curious points to note about this bin:
It is not located near the bench on which the poisoned pair were found.
It is absolutely not on the route from the Sainsbury’s car park to Zizzis or The Mill, and would in fact constitute a bizarre detour, if your intended destination was Zizzis or The Mill.
It absolutely is located next to the Avon Playground, and is in fact the exact location of the duck feed.
It seems to me that the only explanation for why this bin, which is a good 50 yards or so away from the bench, and which is not on the route from the car park to Zizzis or The Mill, was the focus of such intense scrutiny, is that it was known already by the evening of 5th March that the Skripals had been there. Why else would it have been checked? Whether this was because police had already seen the clear CCTV footage of the Skripals in this area that was subsequently shown to the parents of the three children two weeks later, or whether it was known because Mr Skripal was being watched on 4thMarch, I do not know. But I can think of no reason why this particular bin would have been searched so meticulously, other than the one I have advanced, which is that it was already known on 5th March that the Skripals had been around it.
But if this is the case, it raises the following point:
That as early as 5th March, police knew that Mr Skripal had been in contact with three boys near that bin, and that he had shared bread with them in order to feed ducks.
If this is so, it leads to the huge question of why the boys’ parents were not contacted until two weeks later. Clues to why that might be are also in the timeline I have set out.
Mrs May spoke to Mr Trump on 13th March, the day after she originally set out the case against Russia in the House of Commons, and the day before she formally charged the Russian Government with being behind the case, expelling 23 Russian diplomats. On the surface of it, it seems that Mr Trump stood fully behind Mrs May, and that he would agree with whatever action was proposed to him, since — according to the British Government’s summary of the call — he said that “the US was with the UK all the way.”
However, the fact that this was not so was seen by what happened on 20th March. This was the day when Mr Trump phoned the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, and despite being advised by his aides not to congratulate him on his re-election, Mr Trump ignored them and did so anyway. But even more crucially, he also failed to mention anything about the Skripal case, which again went against the advice of his aides, who had urged him to condemn it in the conversation. Given that his reaction to seeing Ms Haspel’s fake pictures was to agree to the expulsion of 60 diplomats, I think we can safely say that at the time of his call to Mr Putin, he had not yet seen these images.
The fake pictures of the sick children and dead ducks were, I submit, very probably a reaction to that conversation. Although Mr Trump was apparently “with the UK all the way” on 13th March (at least that’s how Downing Street put it), it seems that on 20th March, he still wasn’t nearly as troubled by the event as Ms Haspel and Co. hoped he would be. She was angling for the “strong option” of expelling 60 diplomats, and there was Mr Trump not even bothering to mention it in his conversation with Mr Putin. And so he had to be “persuaded” by the deputy director of the organisation that “lies, cheats and steals”.
(As an aside, I have stated that this meeting with Ms Haspel probably took place between 20th and 23rdMarch. The reason for the former data is that, as stated above, I am sure that Mr Trump had not been shown these pictures when he spoke to Mr Putin on 20th March. The reason for the latter date is that the New York Times tells us that this meeting occurred at the White House, and by late afternoon on 23rd March Mr Trump was on his way to his Mar-a-Lago resort, and he didn’t return until late on Sunday 25th, the day before the public announcement of the expulsion of the diplomats. So Project Fake Duck had to have happened between those two dates).
All this raises huge issues in the US, where it appears that the CIA deputy director fed the President of the United States false information to twist his arm to achieve the outcome she wanted to see. That’s for journalists in the US to take up, if they care to, but what happened in Britain?
As I mentioned above, the activity around the bin next to the Avon Playground convinces me that the duck feed must have been known to the authorities as early as 5th March. And yet the parents of the boys involved were only contacted on 18th March. If Mr Skripal had really been contaminated with “Novichok” at the time of that incident, the best you could say of the investigators in relation to this is that they were woefully incompetent; the worst being that they were criminally negligent.
But of course, the fact that none of the boys or ducks became contaminated with the “Novichok” that Mr Skripal was apparently so covered with that they had to incinerate the table in Zizzis at which he was sat a few minutes after this incident, and the fact that the authorities didn’t bother contacting the parents of the boys for a fortnight, all indicates that he was not in fact contaminated at all at that time.
But if this is the case, why did the duck feed make it into the media at all? Given that it was almost certainly known about on 5th March, but the authorities decided not to do anything about it for two weeks (i.e. no public appeals showing the CCTV of Mr Skripal with the boys), why was it ever even mentioned at all? I think that there are two reasons, which are not mutually exclusive.
The first is that the British authorities, aware that their claims of a poisoning by the world’s deadliest nerve agent didn’t exactly match what actually happened — only three people ever experienced symptoms of poisoning and needed treatment — wanted to make it look far more dramatic than it actually was. And so they not only decided to finally visit the boys and their parents two weeks after the fact, but the story was then leaked to the media intentionally to add another sinister dimension to the event — the possible poisoning of children!
To give credence to the theory that officials were intent on exaggerating the fallout of the poisoning, because their claims of what happened didn’t actually match well with the facts, look at what Theresa May said of the incident in her statement to the House of Commons on 26th March:
“While Public Health England have made clear that the risk to public health is low — and this remains the case — we assess that more than 130 people in Salisbury could have been potentially exposed to this nerve agent.”
She really should win an award for the use of the most weasel words in one sentence, although I appreciate that she herself has set the bar pretty high on a number of other issues. More than 130? Could have been? Potentially exposed to this nerve agent? Absolute rot of course. Firstly, if the world’s deadliest nerve agent had been used and traipsed all over Salisbury by Mr Skripal and his daughter, as we were told, then an awful lot more than 130 would have been exposed. But more to the point, this didn’t actually happen. What happened is that three people were affected. Not four. Not five. Not 10. Not 130. Not 10,000. No, just three.
In other words, there was a blatant attempt to exaggerate what happened, or what might have, could have, potentially happened, with the Prime Minister getting in on the act. The duck feed, in my view, was part of this blatant attempt to embellish the story, even though the truth was that it had been known from 5th March that it had happened, yet nobody bothered to contact the parents because it was known that the children were never in any danger.
I am, of course, unsure whether British officials fed this story, together with fake pictures, to the CIA, or whether the CIA faked them, or whether both worked in concert together on Project Fake Duck. However, I have to say that the latter of these three possibilities seems to me to be by far the most plausible. I simply cannot imagine that British officials would dare to feed the CIA fake pictures, in the knowledge that these could be used to deceive the President. And I simply cannot imagine that the CIA would pass off pictures as being received from British Intelligence, in order to deceive the President.
What I can imagine is that both sides had a need to find a way to exaggerate the case. British officials needed to make what happened seem more dramatic, and what better way than to finally get around to visiting the boys who had received bread from Mr Skripal, and then pass the details to a journalist in a major British newspaper, who would then publish a story showing the sheer callousness of the poisoning — children were involved. As for the deputy director of the CIA, she also had a need to exaggerate the case, since it was her desire to take the harshest diplomatic response against Russia, and yet the President was probably too bored or distracted by Twitter to care or even notice. “Any pictures you’ve got will be welcome.” “Oh yes, we can get those for you.” And so the lying, cheating and stealing was used on the President himself, and Duckgate was spawned. Except no mainstream journalist will touch it of course.
But I think that there is another reason why the duck feed made it into the media, despite the fact that the boys and their parents were ignored for two weeks. It is to do with that other significant incident mentioned in the timeline above: the naming of the door handle as the place of poisoning.
I believe I have pretty conclusively shown why the door handle was not, and indeed could not have been, the location of the poisoning. The duck feed itself is ample evidence, since none of the boys became contaminated and no ducks died. But if that doesn’t convince you, the fact that in the days following 4th March unprotected police officers were seen going in and out of Mr Skripal’s house via the same front door which, weeks later, was said to have the highest concentration of the world’s deadliest nerve agent on, really ought to put it to bed for good (you can read a more detailed debunking here).
If you accept this conclusion, it necessarily follows that the door handle theory, rather than being an honest account of what really happened, was actually an attempt to divert attention from the actual place of poisoning, and also an attempt to try to explain how it was that Detective Sergeant Nicholas Bailey became the third person to be poisoned. And indeed this explains why the duck feed, which was ignored for two weeks (because it was known that the boys were not in any danger), suddenly became a thing. Why? Well imagine that investigators had come out with the claim that Mr Skripal had been poisoned at the door handle, but the boys and their parents were not contacted. That would have left open the potential for the boys’ parents, at some point, to raise the claim that their sons had been in contact with Mr Skripal, and the authorities had done nothing to contact them, thus putting their lives in danger. And so I believe that by far the most plausible explanation for this is that it was decided to contact the parents of the boys, even though it was two weeks after the incident, and even though it was known that they were never in any danger, in order to ensure that there was no possible comeback after the door handle explanation was made public.
However, like the whole of this saga, the incident has merely ended up raising more questions. It has raised the question of why the boys and their parents weren’t contacted for a whole fortnight, even though it was surely known by 5th March that they had fed ducks with Mr Skripal. It has raised the question of why these boys and the ducks they fed did not become ill. It has raised the question of why the incident was then used, together with fake pictures, to deceive the President of the United States.
The answer, as I have attempted to set out above, is essentially two-fold:
Firstly, because the poisoning and its aftermath didn’t actually chime with the claim of “Novichok” being used, something more dramatic was needed to up the ante. The fact that children were known to have been with Mr Skripal that afternoon was then exploited by both British officials and the CIA to further their own agendas.
Secondly, because the duck incident presented a potential problem for the door handle theory, in that the boys received bread from the apparently highly contaminated Mr Skripal just 15-30 minutes after he left his house, a visit to the parents of the boys was deemed necessary to avoid a potential claim of negligence later on.
Let me end by saying this: I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the first mention of the duck feed, the first mention of the door handle explanation, and the first mention of British officials describing the duck feed incident to US authorities all appeared in the same article (The Mirror). The issues are intrinsically tied together, and they are all provide more evidence that the truth has been covered up. But then again, when you’re talking about the sorts of people who think nothing of lying, cheating and stealing for a living, I don’t suppose that should surprise us.